How will we remember bands when interfaces are voice-controlled?

I have phrased the above question as a problem for listeners, but this is a much bigger problem for artists.

The last few weeks have been filled with big news for those closely following voice interfaces. Amazon just announced a bunch of new devices, including a cheaper version of the Echo and a new Echo Plus, that utilize Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa. Google has upgraded its voice assistant, and has included it in new headphones which can automatically translate what people are saying, alongside a bunch of other devices that quite frankly look more exciting than Apple‘s. And to top that all off, multi-room hifi-set producer, Sonos, has just integrated Alexa in its speakers.

The problem in the title is actually easily solved for a listener: you can simply ask what’s playing. However you simply can’t be bothered to ask what’s playing every other song. So this problem is much more important for the artist, than for the listener.

If you haven’t used these devices yet, you may not be aware of some of the challenges, but here they are:

  1. It’s already hard to be remembered – how will people remember you when they don’t even see your name? On our phones or laptops, we occasionally see what’s playing. When we select a playlist, we often see what artists are on there. Something may stick. When we play ask Alexa to play Spotify‘s RapCaviar playlist, we don’t get clues of what’s playing. It’s basically the same as with radio, but at least there you have DJs who will tell you what’s playing. Any music or artist that you don’t care to Shazam will be forgotten.
  2. How do you stay top of mind enough for people to replay you? People often start playing music without looking at their phones or music libraries. This means they request what’s top of mind: artists they remember in that moment, or big brands in music and playlists, such as aforementioned Spotify playlist, Majestic Casual, or Diplo & Friends.
  3. How do you compete with ‘functional music’? The most popular ‘music’ apps on Alexa are all kinds of sleep and meditation sound apps. This list excludes Spotify and other music services, due to a deeper integration with Alexa, but it’s telling: people use these voice interfaces to request music to augment specific activities. Sleeping, bathing, meditating, cooking, whatever.

There are great solutions to these problems. And they’re not hard to figure out (people in hiphop have been shouting their name and their label’s name on tracks for decades).

I may do a follow-up on tactics and strategy for the age of “zero UI”, when the user interface is mostly controlled by voice and artificial intelligence, but for now, I’d love to hear about what you think. Ping me on Twitter: @basgras.

Painting: Wojtek Siudmak – “Le regard gourmand”